Nevada senior linebacker Gabriel Sewell admits he was in a dark place in the offseason.
When Sewell signed with the Wolf Pack in 2015, he did so with a long-term goal in mind. He wanted his brothers – all three of them – to play together at the college level. That goal was on track when brother Nephi signed with Nevada over Power 5 offers and became a starter alongside Gabriel as a true freshman in 2017.
But the plan started to unravel when brother Penei picked Oregon over Nevada where he’s starred for the Ducks the last two seasons. And after last year’s season finale, a collapse against UNLV, Nephi decided to transfer from Nevada to Utah following two years in silver and blue. The move shook the eldest Sewell son, who decided to put his name in the NCAA transfer portal last February with the intention of leaving Nevada.
"Me being in the portal was kind of a spur of the moment angry decision,” Sewell said this week. “I was kind of in a dark place with my brother leaving. That was the dream for me to play with all my brothers on one team. We did in high school. We wanted to do it in college and the NFL. That was all our dreams growing up. That dream was kind of taken away when Nephi left. I was kind of mad he left.”
After the sting of seeing his brother leave burned off and following consultation with a couple of close teammates, Sewell removed him name from the portal two weeks later and said he’d stick at Nevada.
"Every kid has the dream of playing on Saturdays in a Power Five conference," he said at the time. "I gave up the dream of playing in the Pac-12 because I believe the bigger picture is in Nevada for me."
And while there have been plenty of low points this season, including a 71-point loss at Oregon against Penei, Sewell has no regrets about his senior campaign, which will include his final home game at Mackay Stadium on Saturday with a chance to win back the Fremont Cannon against rival UNLV.
"We've been part of some really high highs and some really low lows,” Sewell said. “We've been taken to the side of the woodshed, to the back of the woodshed, on top of the woodshed. Everything. We've been through every emotion and I wouldn't change anything up because it's made us stronger. The younger guys have been part of that, so they know how to work.”
Sewell then began to choke up when discussing his five-year journey at Nevada, tears welling in his eyes.
“Growing up, my dad always said to leave something better than the way you got it,” Sewell said. “If you borrow a truck, you make sure you return it back like it was fresh from a dealership. Being my last (home) game, leaving this program in a better place is kind of sad it's coming to an end. I love these boys, my teammates. I wouldn't change up anything."
Sewell has been a four-year starter for Nevada, compiling 276 tackles, which puts him just outside the top 10 in school history. He’s had 21.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles. His 47 starts are 11 more than any other active Wolf Pack player, his experience and leaderships being valuable as Nevada has rebounded from four blowout losses this season to win its last three games, including back-to-back road upsets as two-touchdown underdogs at San Diego State and Fresno State.
But those games were just appetizers for Saturday’s contest against UNLV, a program Sewell is 2-2 against during his Nevada career. Sewell, and the rest of Nevada’s seniors, want to go out with a winning mark.
"It means a lot to me,” Sewell said. “It means a lot to this community, obviously. Coming in as a redshirt freshman, we lost the game here at home and seeing that motivated me to try and go undefeated against UNLV because that was a terrible feeling seeing the Cannon dragged away from Reno.”
Nevada then won back-to-back games against the Rebels in 2016 and 2017 before taking a 23-0 lead at UNLV last season only to see the Rebels mount the largest comeback victory in series history.
“We kind of went overconfident into the game last year,” Sewell said. “We didn't respect them as much. We were already looking ahead to the bowl game and just fumbled it back there. Coach made us watch them celebrate with the Cannon. I'll never forget that feeling. We never want to feel that again. That's something that's been a heavy emphasis on my mind."
Sewell said the UNLV game is always a physical one loaded with emotion. He said Nevada is going to stick to its defensive motto all season – “Just play our nuts off” – as it aims for its eighth win of the year, something the program has not done since 2010.
Sewell is one of 10 fifth-year seniors on Nevada’s roster who spanned the team’s coaching change from Brian Polian to Jay Norvell. The group is headed to its third bowl, if you include its redshirt season, and has spearheaded the growth from a three-win campaign in Norvell’s debut campaign to an eight-win season last year and potentially nine wins this year.
"I guess it really doesn't matter how we're remembered,” Sewell said of Nevada’s senior class. “It's just about the bonds we created here -- 10, 15, 20 years, I'm sure when we see each other's faces it will be like we never missed a beat. It's just the bond created in football, a brotherhood, it's just amazing, guys that will be in my wedding line in the near future. It's just amazing."
Amazing would also describe the feeling Sewell and his fellow seniors would feel if they were able to beat UNLV on Saturday and reclaim the Fremont Cannon, which was lost last season in gut-wrenching fashion.
"That's the icing on the cake for the rest of the season,” Sewell said. “The whole community knows it, we know it, the coaches know it. The season doesn't mean nothing if the Cannon's not blue."
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.